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Desensitising the nervous horse or pony to clippers and clipping

Tim Ryman |

Are you already dreading the winter because of the very thought of how on earth you are going to clip your nervous horse? If this is you, take heart! There are things you can do now to help you and your horse to achieve a much less stressful clipping experience. Whether your horse is new to clipping or has had a previous bad experience, the key is to slowly introduce them to clippers and to the sensation, noise and process of the clipping experience and build up gradually. This process of acceptance is called desensitisation.

The team at Masterclip have put together a quick guide on how you can approach desensitisation in the right way to ensure that the experience is as straight-forward and comfortable as it should be.

Predator instinct

Clippers may be considered a ‘triple threat’ to your horse. A strange object that moves and makes a noise (and sometimes with a snakelike cable too!) are a common spook inducer. The time frame to desensitise a horse to clipping can vary with each individual and the method used. There are a few ways to go about this process such as playing sounds of clipping whilst your horse is in his stable or introducing him to an electric toothbrush first.

However, one of the best ways to get your horse used to clipping in the initial stages is to introduce them to a small trimmer first.

Not only will you be able to get your horse used to the sounds and vibration expected of a clipper, but you can use the trimmer to clip the coat, so he can really feel the sensation of being clipped and help him to understand the process will not cause him any harm. Many horse owners use a trimmer alongside their heavy-duty clipper to carry out the finishing touches to a clip, so even when the time comes when your horse is ready for full clipping, a pair of trimmers will always come in useful and are a long-term investment!

Tips for desensitisation training

  • Choose a time to carry out desensitising training when your horse is most relaxed avoiding feeding times, turn out time etc. and other distractions. Check out our previous blog here for more tips.
  • Ensure you wear safety gear such as a helmet and steel toe capped boots and be prepared for spooky horses to react. The aim is to keep your horse’s anxiety low to help him realise the trimmer/clipper is not a threat, but some horses can be very quick with big reactions. Ensure you have an escape route to retreat to quickly if necessary and allow yourself plenty of room.
  • Gradually introduce your horse to your trimmers/clippers by allowing you horse to see and sniff the trimmer without them switched on initially. Starting towards your horse’s head where they can easily see the trimmer, until you can touch your horse with the trimmer on their head, neck, shoulder, back, belly etc and not forgetting to include the legs. The next stage is do the same process with the trimmer switched on. Slow movements, patience and persistence are the name of the game, always watching your horse’s behaviour.
  • Advance and retreat techniques involve presenting the clippers gradually and with each time the horse shows acceptance (being more relaxed) reward him by removing them. Timing is key with this technique and helps to train the horse to accept the clipper coming towards and away from him at different points over his body. The trickiest area for the horse to accept the clippers is at the poll, so it’s best to introduce this stage last.
  • Clicker training is also a great method to achieve desensitisation by using positive rewards when your horse performs the correct behaviour.
  • Time.  A little time training every day or as regularly as possible will provide the best results. 15-20 minute sessions every day tend to work much better than longer sessions less frequently.
  • When your horse is ready to accept the clipper or trimmer, make sure your blades are set correctly for your clipper and they are sharp. Blunt blades will pull and tug at the hair. You don’t want all your hard work getting your horse to accept the clippers to be ruined by a resulting uncomfortable clip.
  • Sometimes, experience is best. Particularly for horses that have had a traumatic experience in the past. Seek advice or guidance from professional horse trainers to put you both in the best stead for relaying your horses’ fears. Alternatively, discuss options with your vet.

Trimmers and Clippers

Our Showmate horse trimmer is perfect for introductory desensitisation training. Its small size, low noise level and handy compact size is a great tool for all general trimming purposes and there are no cables to worry about as it is battery operated. The Showmate comes with 2 rechargeable batteries, offering up to 30-40 minutes trimming time each.

The next step up from a trimmer is a medium duty clipper. Our Royale clipper is an ideal solution for nervous horses being much quieter and smaller than standard heady duty clippers and can be used for both trimming and partial to full body clipping on fine to medium density coats. The Royale is very versatile and can be used with wide blades for body clipping and narrow blades for trimming, it’s a clipper and a trimmer all in one. It’s also great for cobs and coarser coated horses that are not so keen on their legs being clipped with heavy duty clippers.

Photo below left shows William the young and very nervous New Forest pony being fully clipped with the Royale clipper and battery pack. As you can see, this was the first time William had been clipped after a bad clipping experience and he is half asleep!

If you feel you need to step up a gear and that your horse is ready to accept a heavy-duty clipper, our V-series Variable Speed clipper is a superb option. This sleek, light and ergonomic heavy-duty clipper features the added bonus of a variable speed dial, so it possible to be used on the lowest, quietest speed without losing power. This relatively small handset will blitz through a thick coat and even the heaviest of feathers effortlessly! It can even be used with a battery pack to avoid trailing cables.

Another clipper to consider is our HD Roamer cordless clipper. If the cable is the biggest worry for your horse, this completely cordless clipper eliminates the worry of your horse standing on the mains cable. The HD Roamer has been praised by professional equestrian groomers as they prefer to use battery clippers for fidgety horses to avoid the possibility of the horse becoming entangled in the cable. 

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